The Koch Papers: My Fight Against Anti-Semitism

Edward I. Koch with Rafael Medoff
  • Review
By – February 24, 2012

In The Koch Papers: My Fight Against Anti- Semi­tism, for­mer New York City May­or Edward I. Koch has com­piled a col­lec­tion of his respons­es to anti-Semi­tism over the past thir­ty-five years. In col­lab­o­ra­tion with Rafael Med­off, Direc­tor of the David S. Wyman Insti­tute for Holo­caust Stud­ies, Koch has assem­bled rep­re­sen­ta­tive speech­es, per­son­al let­ters, and both pri­vate and pub­lished essays to illus­trate how, as both an elect­ed offi­cial and as a cit­i­zen, he fought anti-Jew­ish big­otry. As one would expect of a three-term may­or and before that a long-time mem­ber of the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, his files are volu­mi­nous, and he has divid­ed his obser­va­tions into three cat­e­gories: con­fronting anti-Semi­tism in New York City; respond­ing in the Unit­ed States and abroad; and chal­leng­ing those who would deny or oth­er­wise min­i­mize the Holocaust. 

Koch’s moral com­pass is always in the on” posi­tion. He is an arbiter (“We have removed the com­mu­ni­ty sanc­tion of social dis­grace and it is a dis­grace that we have done that”) and an admir­er (“the great­est heroes of all times are heroes because they have stood up to evil”), an apprais­er (“… our leg­is­la­tors prat­tle about con­fronting bias…but when they are giv­en an oppor­tu­ni­ty to stand up and be count­ed, they retreat into silence”), and an adver­sary (“…the sales­men of hate…have brought their racial road show into Crown Heights”). But his most endear­ing rev­e­la­tions involve his pas­sions: sup­port for those Jews trapped in the Sovi­et Union; repul­sion for the new anti-Semi­tism (“now most accept­able in intel­lec­tu­al left­ist cir­cles”); and rev­er­ence for Israel’s role as a sanc­tu­ary (“…nev­er again, so long as there is a State of Israel, will the Jews be aban­doned as they were dur­ing the Holocaust”). 

This is vin­tage Koch: provoca­tive, fer­vent, con­tro­ver­sial, opin­ion­at­ed. The repet­i­tive­ness of lan­guage in sev­er­al of his pieces con­veys gen­uine­ness, because his views are so con­sis­tent. But what he also reveals is his con­cern for why the blot of anti-Semi­tism requires vig­i­lance and res­olute response. Anti-Semi­tism is not sim­ply a Jew­ish issue, Koch writes, but a recur­ring phe­nom­e­non mer­it­ing a glob­al response: In the 1930’s, the west­ern Euro­pean coun­tries con­clud­ed Jew-bash­ing was unim­por­tant. Their inac­tion ulti­mate­ly result­ed in not only the rise of Nazism in Ger­many, but will­ing col­lab­o­ra­tors in their own back­yards.” Zachor! Nev­er again!

An Inter­view with Hiz­zon­er, For­mer NYC Major Edward I. Koch

by Noel Kriftcher

Jew­ish Book World met with Edward I. Koch, for­mer May­or of The City of New York and author of The Koch Papers: My Fight Against Anti- Semi­tism, in his mid­town Man­hat­tan office. Unfail­ing­ly charm­ing and out­spo­ken, Koch wel­comed the oppor­tu­ni­ty to par­tic­i­pate in this inter­view with JBWs rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Noel Kriftch­er. What fol­lows is a selec­tion of respons­es by Mr. Koch to ques­tions posed by JBW to expand on mat­ters touched upon in The Koch Papers

On the secu­ri­ty of Israel

Noel Kriftch­er: In your book you wrote, in 1991, “…our leg­is­la­tures prat­tle about con­fronting bias-racial, eth­nic, reli­gious and gen­der-but when giv­en the chance to stand up and be count­ed, they retreat into silence.” Who are the heroes who are around today whom you would con­sid­er to be the ones who do not remain silent?
Edward I. Koch: Bush. In terms of con­cern about the secu­ri­ty of Israel and the sur­vival of the Jews, there has nev­er been a pres­i­dent as con­cerned about the secu­ri­ty of the State of Israel. Next in line would be Ronald Rea­gan. Third would be Clin­ton, and I’m not aware of any­one I could add to that list. 

On anti-Semi­tism at home and abroad

NK: In his book called The Return of Anti-Semi­tism, Gabriel Schoen­feld writes that what he calls the Amer­i­can excep­tion’ is com­ing to an end. His feel­ing is that the surge of anti-Semi­tism is such that it will even­tu­al­ly reach here. How do you feel about it?
EIK: Well, I keep say­ing that we are liv­ing in the Gold­en Age here in Amer­i­ca, that Jews have risen to the high­est of positions…Joe Lieber­man was more pop­u­lar than Gore.…[But] in Europe there’s no ques­tion. The shock is in Eng­land, the aca­d­e­m­ic class, the upper class­es, absolute­ly ter­ri­ble, and there was a report that Blair before he left office, got a report from a num­ber of mem­bers of Par­lia­ment who were not Jew­ish that they were shocked by the extent of anti-Semi­tism in Great Britain… Any­way, I hope it’s not true. I’m just keep­ing my eyes open. 

On the impor­tance of remem­ber­ing the past

NK: You refer a num­ber of times in the book to the impor­tance of remem­ber­ing the past. Zachor.
EIK: Oh yes, zachor. I’ll tell you what it goes back to. [When I was May­or] I went every year to the com­mem­o­ra­tion devot­ed to the War­saw Ghet­to upris­ing. One of the things that always occurs is about a hun­dred women are lined up on both sides of the syn­a­gogue and they walk down the aisle to light can­dles for the six mil­lion. These are Jew­ish women who are sur­vivors of the con­cen­tra­tion camps, and they’re very tiny women. And I said to myself, My God, how could they have sur­vived? These lit­tle, sweet kind­ly women?’ I was May­or at the time…where I was sit­ting in the front row they would stop and touch me. I was over­whelmed. It was so sweet. And I said to myself, We have got to make sure when they’re dead that there is a way for peo­ple to under­stand what hap­pened.’ We see them, but they’re going to be gone, and that’s why it has got to be cap­tured, in books and speech­es, on com­ments, every year. 

NK: Why this book, and why now?
EIK: Well, I love writing…I’m not the best writer, but I’m not bad…so I’ll just have to add my con­tri­bu­tion. What both­ers me is that Jew­ish kids are not as involved with Israel as they were ten, fif­teen years ago, and they should become involved. Not in the sense of aliyah and going there but like me, rec­og­niz­ing that it is a cen­tral part of our very exis­tence, because it ensures the con­ti­nu­ity of the Jew­ish peo­ple. I know that every night there are com­mu­ni­ties out there…where the peo­ple are fright­ened and they may have to leave overnight, and only one coun­try will take them. And that’s why we are so con­cerned about the secu­ri­ty of Israel.
JBW: Thank you, Mr. Mayor.
Noel Kriftch­er was a pro­fes­sor and admin­is­tra­tor at Poly­tech­nic Uni­ver­si­ty, hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly served as Super­in­ten­dent of New York City’s Brook­lyn & Stat­en Island High Schools district.

Discussion Questions